Earlier this year, the Department of Education released Education Secretary Betsy
DeVos’ Title IX revised rule on sexual harassment which greatly limits the responsibilities of schools to respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault. NOW and over 100,000 individuals and organizations submitted comments, most objecting to the proposed changes which many said will greatly increase the risk of harassment and assault for women and girls, LGBTQIA+ persons and students of color. An extensive discussion of the changes can be found at, https://now.org/issues/economic-justice/now-president-says-new-trump-devos-title-ix-rule-endangers-all-students/
A number of lawsuits have been filed challenging the new regulations, including two state lawsuits (where motions for preliminary injunctions were denied but motions for a summary judgement are due on Oct. 15), one American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit, and one National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) lawsuit for which a trial on the merits is set for Oct.14. So we should know something soon as to whether the new rule can be overturned.
But as of mid-August, all schools, K-12, colleges and universities that receive federal funding must have implemented procedures to comply with the new rule.
But what exactly are the implications of these new Title IX changes?
For one, schools must now dismiss any complaints of sexual misconduct that occurred outside of campus-controlled buildings and/or educational activities. This means that students who study-abroad or live off-campus (which has increased due to COVID-19) aren’t covered. On a similar note, students can only file a complaint against someone who attends their university, which means that they may have to turn to law enforcement or other legal options to ensure their perpetrator is held accountable.
Also, the rule removed the previous sixty-day requirement for investigations, which means that students can be dragged through lengthy investigations with unclear timelines that can ultimately re-traumatize them. Furthermore, what constitutes as sexual harassment under Title IX has been narrowed, which can prevent survivors from pursuing investigations if they so desire and evidently from accessing justice.
Additionally, religious institutions can claim a Title IX religious exemption, and will have no obligation to inform their students about their Title IX adherence. Moreover, colleges must now have live disciplinary hearings and allow for witness cross-examination by a representative of each party’s choosing, which can also increase the risk of re-traumatization.
This new rule weakens Title IX’s civil rights protections and drastically shrinks an academic institution’s obligation to act. Plus, the timing is awful as it comes just in time for the red zone on college campuses, or the first six weeks of the fall semester where instances of campus sexual violence are particularly high. As discouraging as these changes are, we have the power to fight back. Hopefully, litigation will be helpful in restoring important Title IX protection, but in the meantime, grassroots activism can help.
Know Your IX with Advocates for Youth have several resources available for students to ensure that their schools are protecting student survivors, such as making a petition and writing an op-ed amongst other actions. It is important for us to take action because it is essential to support survivors and know our rights, and utilizing these resources is a first step towards protecting students on campus.
The Brookings Institution:
Blog by MacKenzie Flynn, NOW PAC Intern